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When Someone Says 'You Don't Seem Bipolar’

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If you have bipolar disorder, then you’ve likely heard a few comments along the lines of “but you don’t seem bipolar.” Most frequently, in my own life, I’ve heard it while getting to know a new romantic interest or when I “come out of the bipolar closet” to a newly close friend.

It’s hard not to be offended. Initially, all I could feel was invalidated, doubted, insulted or a mixture of all three. After all, the first thing that popped into my head was to say, “OK, so what does bipolar ‘seem’ to be? How exactly does one ‘seem’ bipolar?” I never actually said it, but there’s approximately a 150 percent chance that my face said it for me.

Often, the person saying you or I don’t seem like someone with bipolar disorder simply doesn’t have much experience with the condition. It’s been explained to me that they thought bipolar disorder meant moody, angry, violent or constantly on the edge of suicide. Without a doubt, a person with bipolar disorder may be those things, but so may anyone else.

That’s the part that excites me now when I’m told my condition isn’t obvious: getting to explain how, for the most part, we’re like anyone else. I have the opportunity to explain how each one of us is different and how the majority of us may walk right by on the street and you’d never know we have bipolar disorder.

I now understand that while the invalidation and implied judgment can still sting, it can also be viewed as a perfect opportunity. On some level, it could still be seen as an insult, but on the flip side, there’s a hidden compliment: You’re a positive reflection of bipolar disorder, someone with the potential to change the stigma.

So get out there and show the world what it is to “seem bipolar.”

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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The Truth About Being 'Productive' During Hypomania

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It’s noon, and I’ve almost smoked an entire pack of cigarettes. It’s noon, and I’ve drank a whole pot of coffee. It’s noon, and I have the energy to dance the day away. It’s noon, and I’m already crying.

I woke up today at 5 a.m. to take my boyfriend to work. I didn’t sleep a bit last night. I remember looking at the clock at 10:20 p.m., 11:40 p.m., 12:30 a.m., 3:30 a.m. and so on. I didn’t sleep a wink. Yet, here I am wide awake, unable to take a nap.

This is my first time experiencing hypomania while knowing what it is. I’m not just “normal” or “not depressed” now. No, I’m aware of a state of being that is not from me, but from my mental illness. It’s in control. It has me in tears.

I made a mental list of everything I should accomplish today. Instead, I painted a tree branch I found pink and haven’t done anything since. I’ll admit it. I’m feeling sorry for myself. I look at my day planner, lying on the ground covered in ash from my cigarettes. I want to cry.

The worst part about hypomania is wanting to be productive, having all sorts of grand ideas and then not being able to act on them at all. I can’t do a damn thing. I’m stuck.

I can’t get myself to start cleaning. I can barely get myself to write. This is hell. This is torture. This is making me wish I was depressed again so that way I’d at least feel my laziness were justified.

I can’t process enough information to even write a grocery list. My head hurts because it’s going so quickly. The noises outside have me wanting to curl up into a ball and panic. I don’t know where to go from here.

I was excited for hypomania. I was happy I wouldn’t be depressed, and I could get things done. Yet, as time goes on, I find myself irritated, sad and disappointed. The only time I feel “normal” is when I’m with my boyfriend. I’m distracted, engaged in doing things or able to finally calm down enough to take a nap.

I don’t want to be only functional when I’m with someone else. I don’t want to have to rely on someone else to get through my day. Yet, what if it’s getting to that point? What if I’m getting to a point where I can’t leave my apartment without someone?

I want a job again. I want to feel proud of myself, but I can’t trust myself. I don’t know from one day to the next whether or not I’ll be able to function properly. This is killing me. I want to hide away from the world.

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Will You Still Love Me With My Bipolar?

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What is it like to love somebody who has bipolar disorder? What specific challenges does it involve? Is it possible for it to work, or is it too much of a risk? And is it really worth it?

Firstly, love isn’t always a choice. Sometimes we can’t help but love and care for family and friends, and often we don’t choose who we fall for romantically. And love is never easy: there are always obstacles, challenges and difficulties. Love is for better and for worse, in sickness and health, and some loves last for all eternity while others burn out leaving only hurt and memories behind.

Any kind of love is a risk. You risk both your own heart and feelings and those of the other person — something that may be even more dangerous for an already fragile and vulnerable person. And something possibly unknown and scary to you. And I’m not just talking about romantic and intimate relationships. I’m talking best friends, family, other friends and even colleagues and people we are regularly in contact with.

Well, here’s the thing. I’m not going to deny the issues. Bipolar disorder can be darn hard work! The constant worry, the reliance and sometimes over-reliance on you, the pressure on you to try and help us stay well. The amount of help we may need if we breakdown or become extremely unwell. The unreasonable things we may attempt to involve you in when we are manic or the hurt you may feel when we isolate ourselves. Then there are the ridiculous things you may need to protect us from and the guilt you may feel when you become involved in a distressing episode or hospital admission. And perhaps worst of all it must hurt like hell to watch someone you care about inflict serious harm upon themselves.

But here comes my defense. People with bipolar disorder have a great deal to give. We are kind, we feel things more deeply than anyone else, we take you exactly as you are. There is nothing we hate more than feeling we have hurt someone else. We see beauty in the smallest of things, and we share that with you. We are funny, and we may be slightly wild. You will never get bored of us. We have been through hell several times, so we are pretty much unshockable. You can tell us anything and we won’t judge you. We will also never break your trust as we know too well how that feels. We can love you at your best and your worst, and we will stand by through anything whether or not you are right or wrong. And though it may feel like it at times we don’t actually expect you to “fix” us and we do know you can’t always help. And that’s OK too.

We love you for who you are, and we just want you to love us. The bipolar is a part of us and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Yes, it can be so hard to live with. But people with bipolar have so much love to give, and I do believe that despite the challenges it is possible to love us back. After all, there is no limit on the love we can give or receive.

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10 Bipolar Basics for the Newly Diagnosed

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If you have recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, there are a few basics you should know. You’ll likely find them out on your own, but it might take a while.

So here are some tips to help you on your journey:

1. Being bipolar isn’t necessarily a tragedy. It’s a chronic illness. At times it’s better, at others, worse. It’s not a death sentence and it’s treatable. You can still live a full and satisfying life.

2. You will need help. To live with bipolar disorder, you need a support system. Unfortunately, your friends and family may not be all that supportive. Fortunately, there are online support groups. But the most important parts of your support system – at least at first – are your psychiatrist and your psychotherapist. I recommend having one of each. Psychiatrist for medication and therapist for talk therapy.

3. You will most likely need medication. And the odds are good you might need them for the rest of your life. Don’t panic. After all, diabetics need insulin, usually for life. You may hate taking pills. You may hate the idea of being dependent on them. You may hate the fact they remind you of your brain’s difficulty functioning. But realize meds will make your brain’s functioning less difficult. They are worth the hassle.

4. Everyone is different. Everyone’s symptoms are slightly different. Everyone’s medications are slightly different. Everyone’s reactions to their medications are slightly different. A support group can help you with general information, but it cannot tell you what is ultimately best for you. Your particular symptoms and your unique version of bipolar disorder may well require different medications in different amounts than your friends. And you may have different reactions to them. Some have no effect at all on one person, but are lifesavers for another.

5. Getting better takes time. Once you have your diagnosis and your medication, don’t expect to feel better quickly. It takes time. Then your doctor may assess how well the medication is working and change the dose or even the medication itself. Then you may go through another six weeks of waiting for the new dose or drug to take effect. Each case of bipolar disorder requires a medication regimen tailored specifically to the individual.

6. There are several different types of bipolar disorder. The two main types are called type 1 and type 2. Type 1 is the classical bipolar disorder, which used to be called manic depression. Type 2, a more recently identified version of the disorder, often manifests as mostly depression, possibly with hypomania, a less severe version of the ups that accompany bipolar 1. Other forms of bipolar disorder are rapid cycling, in which one’s mood states alter quickly, even within a few hours. Another part of bipolar disorder is called a mixed state. Mixed states occur when a person experiences both extremes of emotion at the same time – for instance, depression and irritability, or fatigue despite racing thoughts.

7. The odds are that you already know someone with bipolar disorder. One in five Americans will have a psychiatric illness in a given year. But because we don’t talk about it, sometimes no one ever knows. When bipolar disorder is treated properly, a person with the illness can maintain function in society and choose whether or not to share the diagnosis with friends and coworkers. Many people choose not to because of the stigma surrounding mental illness. It’s a valid choice, but it can cut the affected person off from possible support and understanding from others.

8. Relationships can be difficult, but are not impossible. Relationships are difficult for everyone. People with bipolar disorder have relationships that are difficult, too. The disorder may make relationships even more difficult, especially when a loved one does not understand the symptoms, medication, mood swings, anxiety, fatigue and other facets of bipolar disorder. The best cure for this is education. Sometimes it may not be possible for a relationship to survive bipolar disorder, just as a relationship may not survive trauma, grief, addiction, infertility, incompatibility, meddling relatives, infidelity, parenting or a host of other conditions. It may be better to look at all the circumstances surrounding a troubled relationship rather than automatically blame bipolar disorder for difficulties.

9. Learn all you can. Because bipolar disorder is so misunderstood by the public, because it manifests differently in nearly every case, because a person can be actively struggling or in remission, because a person may have any of the different types of bipolar disorder, because everyone is different – the need to educate yourself and probably those around you is essential. The more you know, the less you’ll panic when a symptom you haven’t experienced before suddenly hits. Rely on reputable sources. Medical, psychiatric or psychological websites are usually the best. Support groups can offer much information, but the people in a support group may not be any more well-informed than you are. And beware of people selling “miracle cures” that can lure a person away from needed medication and other services.

10. Keep trying. It’s hard. It’s frustrating. It’s difficult. It’s painful. It’s confusing. But bipolar disorder is something you can live with and even something you can rise above. The secret is to keep trying. Keep seeking out therapy and friends who support you. Keep taking your medication even if you don’t want to. (Stopping your medication without advice from your doctor can be dangerous, so please don’t try that.) Be stubborn. When you feel like giving up, tell yourself maybe things will get a little better in the morning. Hang in there. You may not realize it, but there are people who need you in the world.

Do you have any other tips for the newly diagnosed? Please share them in the comments section.

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How My Recent Hospitalization Helped Me Prioritize Rest

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It’s Friday night. Not yet 8 p.m. and I’m a zombie on the couch. Beyond exhausted. I went back to work this week after a recent hospitalization. This means I had to “keep it together” for five days straight. Sometimes not even my husband understands what it takes to maintain. What it takes to keep the anxiety, panic, tears at bay. Stay on task. Concentrate. Remember. Not give in to paranoia and rumination. I’m just sure my boss and coworkers hate me for taking time off.

One of my goals coming out of the hospital was to learn to leave work at work. I’m a perfectionist and some might argue a workaholic. I think being successful at my job defines me. It gives me purpose. When I have to take a leave of absence because my out of control bipolar disorder symptoms are threatening my safety, I feel like a failure. I feel like I am letting people down. The idea of self-preservation can be so foreign to me.

I need to develop hobbies, likes and interests. After experiencing mania, psychosis and depression, I lose sight of who I am. I’m fighting so hard to find stability I get lost in a clinical treatment world. At home, what do I do with myself? I no longer want to compare myself to who I used to be. Hang on to remnants of the past that no longer serve me. It’s time to embrace myself as I am. Develop new hobbies and interests.

Another part of the equation is self-compassion. It’s OK I’m not out partying on a Friday night. I need some quiet time. Time to recalibrate. Have lower expectations. If I need to let out pent up emotions, that too is OK. This isn’t always my husband’s idea of a good time. We have agreed if he feels the need to “hit the town” after work he is more than welcome to do so. If I need to stay home and rest, that’s perfectly acceptable.

As I slowly melt into the couch, I experience the benefits of self-care. Honoring my needs is truly important. My hope is this attention to myself will re-energize me for the weekend so I can begin the journey of me.

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What You May Not Know About the Person With Her Phone Out at a Concert

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Has everyone heard the phrase, “Take a picture, it lasts longer!”? It’s usually in regards to someone staring and tends to be thrown out a little sarcastically. I sometimes live by those words.

I go to a lot of shows and concerts. It’s always a lot of fun for me, especially if I’m with a good group of people. Even on my own, I still leave with a smile on my face. Lately, I’ve started to notice this trend among artists and DJs alike: telling the audience to put their phones away and enjoy the music. Discussions on social media have popped up about the topic, often shaming people who take photos and videos at live shows.

Those comments have begun to get a little bit irksome, not only because of how generalized they are but because they hold judgement coupled with lack of insight about others. As technology progresses, more and more people seem to be complaining about those who take advantage of it most.

For someone coping with a mental illness, it can be more than just taking advantage of the amazing things we have right in our palms. It can be a coping skill.

When I’m depressed, or even just feeling a little blue, taking my phone out and scrolling to my favorite memories can make me smile. I can watch the videos I took at my favorite show or look at the picture I got to take with a band. I remember the euphoria of being caught up with a crowd, the all-consuming energy. I remember being in a swarm of bodies, everyone jumping and screaming and singing every word. I remember feeling so incredibly grateful that I get the opportunity to hear some of my favorite music live.

On the one hand, I get the frustration of others being on their phones. Screens are in front of you, occasionally blocking the view of the artist or someone knocks you off kilter because they aren’t looking up. But, ultimately… whatever, right? The show will still go on, and you can still have the time of your life just by taking a step to the side.

It can be incredibly difficult for me to dredge up things to be positive about when all that’s on my mind is how badly I want not to exist. Living in the moment can feel like living in a nightmare. Having some of my favorite memories at the tips of my fingers reminds me I won’t feel like this forever. It reminds me that, while bipolar is cyclical, I
have still made it through the times I thought I wouldn’t.

I watch the videos of my favorite DJs or bands playing my favorite songs and if I close my eyes, sometimes I can put myself back there again. And for a brief moment, the same feelings can wash over me and everything doesn’t seem so overwhelmingly terrible.

So, to all the other show-goers I share standing space with: I will be the one with her cell phone up in the air, recording a video during some songs and screaming herself hoarse. Let me know if my phone is in your way, and I will gladly move over. But anything that reminds me I’ll be able to be OK again is something I’m going to continue doing.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo by Gavrilovic

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